P&Z Commission denies Jackson Fork Ranch Lodge zoning change

Joy Ufford photo More than the 50 people allowed to sit attended the June 25 Sublette County Planning and Zoning meeting where a zone change request for a proposed resort near the Hoback River was denied.

On Thursday, a

much larger crowd than usual came to the special

meeting of the Sublette County Planning

& Zoning Commission and most left happy

with the vote, 3-1, against a zoning change to

accommodate a proposed destination resort

by the Hoback River near Bondurant.

Most were Hoback Ranches’ and Upper

Hoback homeowners who challenged many

aspects of owner Joe Ricketts’ proposed 45-

room Jackson Fork Ranch Lodge that would

shuttle guests from Jackson to the lodge.

The meeting was moved to the Lovatt

Room, where only 50 people wearing facemasks

could be seated for social distancing.

The agenda was loosened to allow citizens to

ask questions and speak their minds with reasonable

time limits, after the zoning change

request to a Recreational Services District and

resort plans were outlined.

Proposed resort

Chairman Dennis Seipp opened the meeting

and County Planner Dennis Fornstrom

presented the Jackson Fork Ranch owner’s

request to change about 43 acres from Agricultural

to Recreational Services.

“If granted, they intend to develop a 45-

room destination resort housing 23 employees,”

he said, which would be allowed by the

new zoning. Under agriculture zoning, a guest

ranch could be allowed. Attorney Ed Wood

presented project details with owner’s agent

Morgan Fischer beside him.

“This matter has generated a lot of emotion

and fear … and I’m not quite sure why,”

Wood said. “… It certainly has upset this population.

Change is not always bad.”

He said without the resort, the entire ranch

could be subdivided into 35-acre parcels,

which would create more change than the

proposed Jackson Fork Ranch Lodge with 31

employees. Wood stated eight jobs would be

available for commuters and 23 onsite employees

would be housed in studio units not

visible from the road. The county prides itself

on being “business friendly” with economic

freedom and “freedom from excessive land

regulations,” he said.

The resort would cost about $19 million

and another $7 million for employee housing.

Impacts on services

Impacts of the resort would be “fairly

minimal” for traffic, water, environment and

county services such as fire, law enforcement

and road maintenance, Wood said.

Jorgensen and Associated Engineering

used Sublette County traffic data to estimate

average vehicle use – a peak of 150 a day –

from September and October 2018.

It estimated the resort’s traffic impact at

119 total trips per day between the employee

village and resort to Highway 191 and on the

Upper Hoback Road.

“With the addition of the resort, the forecasted

traffic volumes are expected to remain

low on the Upper Hoback Road and do not

warrant any road improvements other than

improved signage along the roadway,” the

study concludes.

A resident noted the numbers were during

the Roosevelt Fire – Wood said he noticed

that and Jorgensen gave Fornstrom a new report

that day, which interested parties had not

yet seen.

It states, “Upon further discussion with the

county, it was clarified that the data (were)

actually collected in the month of July, 2018

and not September and October” – specifically

July 28. “The analysis and conclusions

in the reports are hereby validated.”

Citizens said over and over construction

and guest traffic could severely damage the

dirt Road. Although Road and Bridge Supervisor

Billy Pape was quoted often with different

opinions, he was not present.

Fornstrom said Pape did not submit a written

report, saying whatever damages occurred.

would be repaired or rebuilt – “If it’s a county

road, it will be maintained,” he said.

Sheriff K.C. Lehr commented, saying he

did not anticipate needing more staff. Resorts

and lodges usually make “very few calls for

service” with some for search-and-rescue and

the helicopter.

Sublette County Unified Fire Chief Shad

Cooper noted recruiting and retaining rural

volunteer firefighters is difficult and Bondurant

has a small crew. “The impact of a new

resort in the Bondurant community could create

additional requirements for emergency

response.”

At the June 25 meeting, Cooper said three

of his volunteer firefighters live in Hoback

Ranches and suggested Jackson Fork Ranch

Lodge employees could join the fire department.

The resort “should be built with fire protection

as a primary consideration,” he said.

Wildlife impacts

Wyoming Game and Fish’s Brandon

Scurlock wrote, “The area … contains important

wildlife habitats, including crucial

elk and moose winter yearlong range. Elk

move through portions of the (Jackson Fork

Ranch) to the McNeel feedground each fall

and spring. The project area is located within

the Sublette mule deer migration corridor …”

He also noted potential bear problems and

migrating pronghorn. The owners collaborated

“to modify a livestock fence near the

project area to facilitate movement of biggame

animals to important seasonal ranges”

and he recommended new fences be wildlifefriendly

and seasonal stipulations close construction

from Nov. 15 to April 30.

Public comments

Ranchers have summertime livestock

grazing permits on allotments surrounding

the ranch and cow camp across from the project

area. Ricketts’ property is on the north of

Upper Hoback Road and Forest Lands are on

the south.

“Ranchers are the best people to take care

of the land,” said B.J. Kominski, a summer

resident. “Jackson used to be a small tourist

in Wyoming. A real tourist trap. Now look at

it … once you build something, others will

come. You have a treasure here – don’t give it

away. Don’t change the zoning.”

Pat Burroughs lives 3 miles south of the

proposed resort.

“Ricketts does not reside on the Upper Hoback.

Whatever happens to that land … will

never affect him in any way.”

As a neighbor, she received a letter from

him last winter outlining “a minimalist, modest-

sized resort offering cross-country skiing,

hiking, fishing, skiing and bird watching.”

She asked to see the proposed lodge’s slide

again – “That is our little bird-watching facility.

“The idea that this is a huge windfall for

Sublette County is absolutely ridiculous.”

She said when Ricketts first bought the

ranch, he invited neighbors up, gave them

“swag bags” and told them, “What we need

to do, we need to change the name from Bondurant

to Little Jackson Hole.”

She said, “He was trying to change Bondurant.

He doesn’t participate in any activities,

he doesn’t give to the fire department, or

historic activities with the Bondurant Community

Club, he doesn’t give to the church.

… We invest in the land long term; we’re in

the Bondurant Community Club; we’re firefighters.”

Melissa Harrison said the county should

do its own research to make sure the owner’s

studies are accurate. “I think we need a lot

more information before we move forward.”

She said it was unlikely any locals would

be hired – “I can count on one hand how many

people (he) has hired from Sublette County.

How many people now are from Sublette

County?” she asked. Wood and Fischer

Joy Ufford photo

More than the 50 people allowed to sit attended the June 25 Sublette County

Planning and Zoning meeting where a zone change request for a proposed

resort near the Hoback River was denied.

declined to answer.

Chris Lacinak, a volunteer firefighter, said

he and his wife Stephanie Housely fell in love

with Hoback Basin’s culture, bought a home,

brought their businesses and immediately became

involved in the community. “There are

a handful of places in the country that have

what Bondurant has. (Why) give away places

like Bondurant that are so rare?”

Dan Bailey lives on his family’s old Miller

Ranch at the end of Upper Hoback Road

asked how many letters of opposition came in.

“Sixty-four,” Fornstrom said.

“How many in support?”

“Two letters and two comments.”

Bailey advised economic benefits from

the resort “may not even happen. The guests

could turn left at the highway (to Teton

County) instead of making a right turn into

Sublette County.

He added, “The letters people have submitted

have given adequate comments on how

this could be denied with full legal rights.”

Outcome

After two hours of impassioned questions

and comments, Planning & Zoning Commissioner

Blake Greenhalgh made a motion to

approve the request. Commissioners Maike

Tan and Jim Huntley, via Skype, declined to

second it. Chairman Seipp finally seconded it.

Greenhalgh voted “aye” to approve it; the rest

voted against it.

Tan was the only to voice her feelings

about the request, citing the importance of the

county’s comprehensive plan values of “livelihood,

culture and custom. Those three words

speak to me.”

The final decision remains with the Sublette

County Board of Commissioners at its

next July 7 meeting, with discussion at 1 p.m.

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